Iraq has postponed the planned purchase of 18 F-16 fighter planes from the United States this year and diverted the funds to feeding the poor, an official said earlier this week, amid growing protests that have been inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.
"The F-16 contract has been postponed this year and the money has been diverted toward improving food rations" for the poor, Government Spokesman Ali Dabbagh told AFP.
"In the new draft budget for 2011 that was presented to us, $900 million was earmarked for the purchase of F-16s, which will be used to finance rations and social benefits," confirmed Mohammed Khalil, a Kurdish MP who is a Member of Parliament's Finance Committee. "We had to make choices because of the budget deficit."
This year's draft budget projects spending at $81.86 billion and revenues of $68.56 billion, leaving a $13.3 billion deficit.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said this month that 6 million Iraqis possessed food ration permits, entitling them to the full quota of subsidized essentials. He said his government would increase the total amount spent on food rations for the needy from $3 billion to $4 billion.
For more than a year, Iraq has been engaged in talks with the United States for F-16 fighters to protect its airspace after the planned departure of U.S. forces at the end of this year, which will leave Iraq without air cover.
Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Buchanan, the Spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, told AFP this month that the full package of the F-16 deal was worth $3 billion, and the version offered was the Block 52 model.
"The long-term value of the offer for the 18 aircraft was $3 billion, including the aircraft, ammunition, spare parts, training and everything else, including avionics and electronics," Buchanan said.
Protests over irregular deliveries of rations and lack of such basic services as electricity have sparked protests around Iraq that have multiplied since uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled entrenched leaders in those countries.